Higher Education Quick Takes
The American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education both on Thursday expressed concerns about the way Texas A&M University at San Antonio notified Sissy Bradford, an adjunct with excellent teaching evaluations who had been told earlier she would have four courses for the fall, that she would have no courses. The university told Bradford of this development the day that a local newspaper noted her complaints about how the university responded to threats she received after her objections played a role in the removal of crosses from a tower being built at the entrance to campus. Bradford and her supporters see the university punishing her for speaking out. University officials have said that there is no relationship between her lack of courses for the fall, and her public statements. And university officials have stressed that adjuncts are not entitled to courses in any future semester.
A letter from the AAUP to President Maria Hernandez Ferrier said that "we believe that the action taken against Ms. Bradford was effectively a dismissal for cause, without the administration's having demonstrated adequacy of cause before a faculty hearing body. It thus seems to us to be a summary dismissal, fundamentally at odds with academic due process." The letter continues: "We accordingly urge that the Texas A&M University-San Antonio administration rescind her dismissal and reinstate her to the teaching that had been assigned to her for the fall semester, with any further action in her case to be consistent with the enclosed principles and standards."
FIRE announced that it was looking into the case. A statement from the organization said in part: "Many know, of course, that the job security of adjunct instructors like Bradford is nowhere near what it is for tenured professors and that universities may (and frequently do) decide not to rehire them for myriad reasons -- or no reason at all. But this does not mean that adjunct professors possess fewer First Amendment rights than their tenured counterparts. Adverse employment action taken against adjunct instructors on the basis of their protected expression as citizens violates the First Amendment."
On Thursday, the university released a letter from Bill Bush, interim head of the School of Arts and Sciences, in which he said that portrayals of the situation at the university have been "extremely one-sided." He said that the university offered support to Bradford amid the controversy over her statements about the crosses. He said that the decision not to offer Bradford courses for the fall was related to a desire to hire more tenure-track faculty members, and he said that she was in no way punished for any stances she took. He said it was a "duty" of the university to protect students and faculty members who express a range of views.
The university did not respond to a request that it explain why Bradford was initially offered courses for the fall, and then told that she would not teach those sections.
Maryland authorities who have charged a 21-year-old Morgan State University student with killing a man have reported an unusual confession by the student: He said that he ate parts of the victim's brain and heart, The Baltimore Sun reported. Alexander Kinyua, the student, was "disenrolled" in January from Morgan State's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program following a disciplinary incident.
WASHINGTON -- Only in this town would the move of a group of policy analysts from one think tank to another be big news. But the departure of Education Sector's four-person higher education policy team for the New America Foundation, announced Wednesday, is noteworthy.
The changeover is significant to some extent because it comes in the wake of drama involving turnover and turmoil at Education Sector; its most recent executive director, Richard Colvin, left last month barely a year after being named, and the interim executive director who replaced him, John Chubb, was on the education advisory team for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign until he quit a few days ago.
Several people at Education Sector were unhappy with what they saw as an unwelcome shift into politicization at the historically nonpartisan policy organization, and the group's departure leaves Education Sector without higher education expertise, although a spokeswoman said that would soon be remedied.
But the move by the Education Sector émigrés -- Kevin Carey, who will head New America's education policy team, Amy Laitinen, Stephen Burd and Rachel Fishman -- gives New America a deep bench of higher education policy analysts. They will join, among others, Jason Delisle, an expert on student loans and federal education finances, who noted that there has been significant overlap between the two organizations over time. (Burd formerly worked at New America, and is not the only education policy analyst to have moved from one to the other previously.) "When Kevin and his team were looking to make a move, we were a natural choice," Delisle said.
Carey said via e-mail that he had "been in the same position as policy director at Ed Sector for going on seven years and this felt like the right time to step up into a broader leadership role." He added: "New America is a great organization with a lot of complementary strengths so it feels like a really good fit."
About 900 colleges nationwide have agreements with banks or financial services companies for debit or prepaid cards for financial aid disbursement, student identification cards and other services, despite concerns and occasional controversy about fees on those cards, according to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's Education Fund. Despite inroads from banks and other companies offering prepaid debit cards, Higher One still dominates the market, with agreements on more than 500 campuses.
Prepaid debit cards can come with high fees, including a 50-cent "per swipe" fee for Higher One cards if they are used with a personal identification number (as a debit card) rather than a signature (as a credit card). The report calls on colleges to negotiate agreements with lower fees and to provide students with a range of options, including checks and bank deposits, for financial aid disbursements.
The California Senate on Wednesday passed two bills that would require the state to create free, online textbooks through open source materials for the top 50 courses taught in the state, the Associated Press reported. Senator Darrell Steinberg, the sponsor of the bill, said it would protect students from the "exorbitant" prices charged by some publishers. The American Publishers Association is opposing the legislation, which now moves to the Assembly.
New Jersey should establish guidelines for the compensation of community college presidents, which varies enormously from institution to institution, the state's comptroller said in a report Wednesday. "There are no state standards or guidelines for college trustees to rely on when setting compensation terms for their president," said the comptroller, Matthew Boxer. "As a result, there are huge disparities in not only the salaries of community college presidents, but other forms of their compensation as well. We’re not suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s appropriate to set boundaries when schools are spending taxpayer dollars."
Dozens of law professors have signed a joint letter to President Obama urging him to take steps to help college students who lack the legal documentation to permanently reside in the United States. President Obama has backed proposed legislation that would create a path to citizenship for such students, but the letter argued that the administration has "clear executive authority for several forms of administrative relief for DREAM Act beneficiaries: deferred action, parole–in–place, and deferred enforced departure." Through these means, the administration could remove the fear many of these students (many of whom were brought to the United States as young children and who have few ties in their original countries) of being deported, the letter says.
The U.S. Education Department's top-ranking postsecondary education official is heading back to campus.
Eduardo M. Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, will leave the Obama administration to become interim president of California State University at Monterey Bay, the Cal State system announced Tuesday. Ochoa, who had been provost and vice president for academic affairs at Sonoma State University before President Obama nominated him for the Education Department job two years ago, will succeed Monterey Bay's current president, Dianne Harrison, who has been named to lead California State University Northridge.
Ochoa is the second member of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's higher education political team to leave the administration leading up to the 2012 election, following James Kvaal's decision last fall to join Obama's campaign staff. Political appointees are typically discouraged from leaving in an election year, for fear of signaling lack of confidence in the incumbent's prospects. As assistant secretary, Ochoa has had a typically broad portfolio as assistant secretary, helping carry out (and defend) the administration's gainful employment and other program integrity rules, encouraging the collection of better data about higher education performance and productivity, and urging college leaders to bring their spending and prices under control.